On the ride back from Taipei Zoo, Siena misplaced her train token and later found it before she got into trouble (from me). Eager to teach my daughter a lesson about responsibility, I brought her to the station attendant to inquire about the consequences of the (would-have) lost token.
The train attendant responded, all you need to do is tell us which station you embarked on the train last and repurchase the ticket from us. As simple as that.
It didn’t take much to figure out the loophole in the system. Given the further you were traveling from, the more expensive the ride would cost.
So I asked the attendant, how do you know if I’m telling the truth?
Without a second of thought, he said – I trust you.
Those three magic words uttered out of the mouth of a perfect stranger in a big city profoundly touched my heart. It was the last thing I ever expected.
How do we build trust amongst strangers?
It occurred to me that you can’t force this fickle little idea into existence. You gain trust by first taking a chance to trust others.
Even though trivial, this precious experience gave me plenty of hope in humanity. A lesson that I will always treasure and a practice that I must definitely pay forward.
If there’s one regret that I have for my Taiwan trip, it would be not having spend enough time hanging around the 24 hour Eslite bookstore which was only 10 minutes walk from my hotel.
I did, however, spend a couple of hours there with Siena and Alannah on the first day of our arrival, and made it a point to return again early in the morning to pick up some books before I left Taipei. I can easily imagine myself spending the entire week in the bookstore sifting through books, observing people from all walks of life hanging around to my heart’s content.
Eslite reminds me of both Borders and Kinokuniya in Singapore. Back in the days when they would have comfortable seats at the aisle for people to read for as long as they want. Eventually, idealism had to give way to economic logic. Kinokuniya removed the seats altogether soon after Borders closed it’s door more than a decade ago. Til today, I mourn the fond memories of Borders whenever I pass at Wheelock place, but I digress.
Back to Eslite, on my final visit to the bookstore, the atmosphere was very different from the regular hours I came a week ago. It was solemn and peaceful as it was virtually empty at 6.30 in the morning. There wasn’t a single soul except for one or two people quietly seated at the corner dozing off, left to their own devices. On second look, it became quite obvious to me that they were the homeless people taking shelter from the cold outside. They were however, clean, dignified and appeared very respectful towards the premise, seating quietly by themselves without calling any attention.
I couldn’t help but wonder what is the rationale behind Eslite opening 24 hours. Clearly from my limited observations, there’s not much money to be made from the extra hours and while having to maintain a level of operating cost and manpower to keep the lights on.
Then, I saw this article on their about page and the reason became quite apparent to me:
In 1989, eslite opened its first store on the Ren’Ai Roundabout in Taipei in pursuit of ” Charity, Love and Aesthetics ” and the business philosophy of “Humanities, Art, and Creativity into Life”. Over the years, with the unique ability of book selection and experience in multi-channel integration and management, eslite has gradually developed into a comprehensive cultural space full of humanistic care focusing on cultural creativity, committed to promoting reading and cultural exchanges.
In 1999, the most representative eslite Dunnan bookstore in the Chinese community became a 24-hour bookstore for innovation, where people could read books any time. In 2004, it was selected as Asia’s Best by TIME Magazine’s Asian Edition. From 2014 to 2015, it was praised by CNN as one of the “coolest bookstores in the world” for two consecutive years.
Most businesses operate simply to make a profit, as they should so that they can sustain for the long term. Occasionally, we get to witness some rare businesses that operate with a higher purpose to serve. When that happens, we ought to treasure them and preserve their existence with our patronage and support, so that they could continue to do the good work that they do.